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<i>A Doll's House</i> | New Ambassadors, London
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That iconic offstage door never tires of slamming shut behind Ibsen's newly self-aware and independent heroine in the countless contemporary revivals of A Doll's House. From one perspective, this might be considered odd, for the play is the kind of proto-feminist drama that has helped to create the very reforms that could have left it looking a touch dated. But recent outings of this consummate masterpiece have tended to confirm its author's claim that A Doll's House goes beyond the sex-war, exploring the need of every human being, man or woman, to know who they really are and to strive to become that person.

That iconic offstage door never tires of slamming shut behind Ibsen's newly self-aware and independent heroine in the countless contemporary revivals of A Doll's House. From one perspective, this might be considered odd, for the play is the kind of proto-feminist drama that has helped to create the very reforms that could have left it looking a touch dated. But recent outings of this consummate masterpiece have tended to confirm its author's claim that A Doll's House goes beyond the sex-war, exploring the need of every human being, man or woman, to know who they really are and to strive to become that person.

Polly Teale's production introduces some striking innovations: these, though, quickly come to seem retrograde and misconceived. Marketed as the "expressionist" version of the play, the production immediately proves to be as good as its word. Anne-Marie Duff's Nora is first seen stuck in a literal doll's house which, like Alice in Wonderland, she has flagrantly outgrown. We watch her hatch out of this toy. That opening sequence is typical of a staging that spells everything out in advance in a patronising and pre-emptive way.

Ibsen's drama is a brilliant compression chamber of repressed emotion, but by externalising Nora's inner demons and letting them stalk the stage, the production turns the play into a much less interesting lurid swirl of escaped gases. Thus, in this version, the dead father who infantilised and corrupted the heroine keeps hoving into view, capriciously dangling and snatching away a bag of sweets. Krogstadt (Jude Akuwudike), the bank employee whose disgrace for forgery seems to foreshadow her own imminent fate, is a threatening beggarly presence throughout in scenes where Ibsen had not assigned him an on-stage role. Absolutely characteristic of this show's self-gazumping tendencies is its treatment of the celebrated tarantella which Nora dances in a desperate attempt to distract her husband (appallingly played by Paterson Joseph) from collecting the fatal letter from the domestic postbox. Here the tension of the sequence is dissipated as Nora veers into a fantasy of calling the shots in the marital relationship, whisking her red shawl provocatively round her spouse like a toreador teasing a bull.

All this condescending obviousness is a great pity because Anne-Marie Duff is potentially a marvellous Nora. Beautifully negotiating the shift in the character from driven flirt to dazed, nascently mature woman, she rises above the crudity of the production's aesthetic in a way that the male actors dismally fail to do. In this version, of course, the famous door is not a sound effect but an absurdist centre stage piece of scenery. With its outdoor steps leading down into the room and wintry leaves drifting about, this is an exit that has done an about-turn and become an entrance as well. A profoundly suggestive optical illusion? No, what it principally reminded me of was the Groucho Marx song "Hello, I Must Be Going".

Judged by this piece, the renowned Shared Experience company would appear to be wrongly named. They don't really share the experience: instead, as is the case with much bad interpretative art, they narrowly dictate the terms on which you can have it.

To 9 Dec (020-7369 1761)

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